Vidyut Latay’s documentary “Beyond Silence” highlights the breach between the hearing and deaf world

“When I see waves, I can’t hear the sound, all I can see is the waves and the beauty of the waves,” gestures Prakash, miming the movement of the waves. “I have no use for sound. God made me deaf and I have accepted my deafness.”

Prakash, who aspires to become a film editor, is one of central characters in Vidyut Latay’s documentary Beyond Silence, “which acknowledges the existence of a living, competent and thinking deaf community that has the ability to communicate…”

The idea for the film was triggered in 2008, when Vidyut was studying in San Franscisco. “I saw an interpreter signing an address by the President of the university. In all my years in India I had never ever witnessed any scene like that! This experience was truly new and intriguing for me. I was a bit disturbed and very inquisitive at the same time to know more about why India had no acknowledgement of this language…” she says.

The major part of the shooting took place in Mumbai in 2008-09. Since the director wanted to record the interviews amidst natural sound, the interpreting happened after the entire film was shot. The film has been screened at several film festivals, first as a 15-minute short, and now in its nearly 40-minutes-long form.

According to a statistic furnished in the documentary, there are just 250 practising interpreters for nearly 18 million deaf people. This lack is at the heart of the breach between the hearing and deaf world, that keeps broadening through the refusal to acknowledge sign language. The deaf are marginalised at home by parents reluctant to learn their language, and because of schools which insist on teaching through oral methods.

“Most parents and teachers have not accepted that deaf children and students need not be converted into hearing to lead a ‘normal’ life. The concept of normalcy is created by the hearing world and everybody tries to look at deafness through the lens of normalcy…” Vidyut says.

For any kind of positive change in the attitudes toward deaf people, awareness of sign language and sensitisation about deaf culture is pivotal. Vidyut suggests a number of ways this can happen — through the introduction of sign language studies in school curriculum, by making knowledge of sign language mandatory for teachers in deaf schools and through closed-captioning services in the Indian electronic media.

“Having worked myself as an executive producer and director in Indian television channels, this is one of the most important policy changes I would like to see for hearing impaired people. Currently, the deaf community is totally deprived of any information and entertainment through the electronic media and they have an equal right to it like any other hearing person,” she says.

The deaf are a self-confident lot, and do not need pity. The film challenges the view that deafness is a ‘handicap’. As one of the deaf characters in the film, speaking to a hearing audience, says, “When you go to France you are all happy, you are enjoying the sight seeing, you like the place, but communication is going to be a little difficult there. Because they speak a different language from you. It’s the same for us everywhere.”